Thursday, 8 December 2011
The Capsule Wardobe
Whether you are a sewer, shopper or both, I think most women living in developed countries would admit to feeling overwhelmed at times by the choice of clothing and accessories to buy or make. You could be wandering down the high street, or surfing Burdastyle in search for inspiration; there is just so much on offer that we are almost drowning in options of ways to clothe ourselves. But it is fashion magazines that provide the arena in which this clothing claustrophobia reaches fever pitch. Their pages are flooded with ‘key trends’ and ‘current looks’ which intend to throw us into wardrobe-turmoil by insinuating that without them, our appearance (and therefore how we will be perceived) is not up-to-date or relevant.
The magazines then act like a trusted friend, promising to aid us in figuring out how we can adopt these looks with helpful articles like ‘How to Wear This Season’s Colour/Boots/Trousers/Prints/Whatever’ whilst coincidentally both pedalling the wares of their advertisers AND the idea that fashion magazines themselves harbour ‘fashion insider’ knowledge that make them indispensible to us uninformed mortals. There are, as you may have guessed by now, not enough words in the English language, for me to fully express my dislike for this process.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that clothing and style can be fun and are great tools for self-expression. And fashion trends can be fascinating windows through which to view shifts in wider social cadence. But the fashion press and clothing brands work together with one primary aim: to make money. Nothing more noble than that. And they achieve this largely by trying to make women feel irrelevant, lacking and rubbish about our appearance. They offer ‘solutions’ in the form of products to buy, but the speed of the turnover of these ‘must-haves’ means that us consumers will never feel satisfied and relevant for long unless we pump some more of our wages into the machine.
Therefore, it is fascinating, is it not, that even fashion magazines’ writers and editors apparently aspire to ‘evolving’ beyond the frivolity of the never-ending cycle of new looks and trends they adopt, season after season, in order to stay on top of their game. It is as if they are acknowledging that the money-making merry-go-round their roles perpetuate is not sustainable, and they are looking towards the future when they will have been exhausted by their professions like race-horses being put out to pasture. I am talking, of course, about The Capsule Wardrobe.
The research conducted by Courtney Carver, author of Project 333, leads her to define The Capsule Wardrobe in these terms:
1. collection of clothes and accessories that includes only items considered essential
2. a person’s basic collection of coordinating clothes that can be used to form the basis of outfits for all occasions
3. a set of clothing, normally around 24 items, which can be mixed and matched to create a wide variety of outfits.
The Capsule Wardrobe is a something, paradoxically, that fashion magazines (and now increasingly fashion blogs) have devoted a lot of column inches to over the years. It is treated with the same tone of the rest of the standard fashion press copy: that it is the ‘fashion insiders’, rather than the general public, who are most qualified to determine what such a precisely crafted, carefully edited selection of garments should comprise of. The extent of the dichotomy that fashion magazines are also permitted to state what a basic, trend-less selection of clothes should look like, is frankly alarming to me. The definite article (The) in The Capsule Wardrobe, as these things are always discussed, would also suggest that it really is a singular entity that all women must yearn for. Such articles are never titled ‘A Capsule Wardrobe’, are they? Yet the magazine articles and blog posts on ‘The Capsule Wardrobe’ never managed to agree on what that should consist of. Anyways, there is a lot to take issue with here, regarding both the assumptions of what a capsule wardrobe is, and who gets to shape it.
The first is the idea of ‘essential’. That is an incredibly subjective term, both in terms of what society you live in, and within your own society. In fact, I doubt that even my best friend and I could agree on what garments we consider ‘essential’. Ditto with the term ‘basic’. Why do so many of them always contain a basic white buttoned shirt?! What good is that to a woman with a toddler, or who works with animals?! I haven’t worn, or had use for, a white shirt since I was a waitress in a pizza restaurant some eight years ago! Why is so much of it black, white and grey anyhow? Isn't the colour and the print, for many people, the fun bit about getting dressed each day? Also, from a fashion writer’s perspective, what a capsule wardrobe would consist of changes with the seasons, years and decades anyhow, so why all this time spent trying to define the indefinable?
Of course, there have always been some writers and bloggers who deal with this topic with a more relaxed definition of ‘The Capsule Wardrobe’ means, taking into account the individuality of both style preference and lifestyle needs. Currently, there are whole blogs devoted to creating a 24-piece ‘mix and match-able’ collection of clothes which can, presumably, be altered to accommodate new trends as the owner desires. But isn’t that actually just ‘A Wardrobe’?
If you believe the statement that women in Western countries usually wear 20% of their wardrobes 80% of the time, and 80% of their wardrobes only 20% of the time, then aren’t we usually dealing with a limited section of our clothes at any one time anyway? Are they suggesting that we get rid of everything else we already own? What happens when you fall behind with your laundry and a proportion of those 24 things are dirty or hanging on radiator to dry? What happens when you don’t live in LA and actual weather systems kick in, and ‘The Dressy T-shirt’ and ‘The Basic Shirt’ just aren’t going to cut it and you’re wearing ‘The Cardigan’ and ‘The Sweater Vest’ together every single day for three months until Spring shows it’s face again? What happens when you get bored of staring at yourself in the mirror in your one basic cardigan? Are we meant to be operating on a one-in, one-out system here? If something new gets bought, does something else need to be discarded?
Obviously I’m being facetious here, I doubt anyone writing a magazine article or blog post about creating a Capsule Wardrobe is genuinely proposing there are strict guidelines to be adhered to, or that ‘24’ is some sort of numerological lucky number: the Holy Grail of wardrobe contents if you will.
I’m all for halting mindless and panic actions in favour of making well thought-out selections of what to add to our wardrobes (be that through shopping or sewing) in the attempt to reduce the quantity of landfill and amount of damage clothing and fabric production reaps on our environment. It makes sense to make selective decisions about what to consume and what to pass on to if we no longer wear an item and someone else could benefit from it. But forgive me for being suspicious when it’s fashion ‘experts’ who are dictating this process.
The basic crux of what I’m saying is this: normal women (who don’t make their money by having the contents of their wardrobes scrutinised) really don’t need fashion writers telling them what their wardrobes should contain. We already all have our own ‘Capsule Wardrobe’. It’s the stuff we wear most of the time anyway. What that consists of should be as personal and individual as you are (and it already is). For example, since I made it, I wear my leopard collar batwing top as often I can get away with because I love how it feels, it looks good with my black jeans and generally it reflects a casual version of my personal style as it stands today. To me, it is both ‘essential’ and ‘basic’. Yet I wouldn’t expect, and certainly wouldn’t want, to see someone else to rock a similar top several times a week. Your jeans that you wear pretty much every day because they are comfy and make your bum look good? They are ‘The Jean’. The boots you wear a lot because they don’t leak when it’s been raining? They’re ‘The Boot’. Your plain cardigan with the loose button that you haven’t had a chance to stitch on again because you’re wearing it most of the time? You guessed it, ‘The Cardigan’! See? You’ve already got a capsule wardrobe. Let’s spend more time enjoying getting dressed and being ourselves, and less time worrying whether it is all mixes and matches!
I believe the tone of many fashion magazines and fashion columns, that they possess superior knowledge of how everyone should present themselves, is insidious and damaging. As I say, clothing styles and trends are interesting: they can reflect certain social and personal moods, and they can be fun to dabble and play with. But anyone pretending to have any more of a handle than you do on deeply personal areas like what you wear, how much you weigh or what shape your pubic hair should take, is both mistaken and can piss off, IMO. Women have enough hoops to jump through and ways in which they are made to feel inferior and unworthy. Do you think men give a shit about how many garments they own, or should own? Or if they have the definitive basic peacoat?
It also interests me that The Capsule Wardrobe is, in many ways about restriction, self-imposed restriction. That in an era when we have so much on hand, we are implementing rules to help us negotiate all this choice, be it food or possessions, including clothing. But that’s an area I’d like to expand upon another day. Right now, I’ve got to go and count my pairs of trousers!